AN AMBITIOUS green scheme to pipe cheap heat under Southampton Water and the River Test to homes and businesses has been unveiled by the city council leader.

Councillor Richard Williams wants to turn the Marchwood incinerator into a 40-megawatt power station in a grand vision to boost the city’s green economy.

Waste heat from the dome-shaped waste burner on the Waterside could be captured and piped underwater to the docks or other parts of the city.

It would be sold on to help plug the council’s growing budget deficit.

Cllr Williams plans to raise the estimated £15m to pay for it by issuing a joint council bond with a club of other authorities with like-minded green schemes including Eastleigh , Portsmouth, Oxford, Reading and Isle of Wight. Talks have already taken place with those councils.

Cllr Williams hopes to raise more than £100m to be shared among the councils from city investors or pension funds. It could be further matched by unspent European Union regional development cash, he said.

The city’s general hospital, which Cllr Williams said had energy demands greater than Romsey , will be targeted as a possible major customer.

Cllr Williams said councils had to seek new financing to provide the “sustainable revenue” in the face of year on year cuts and wanted the council to become an “energy trader”.

He said: “There is significant energy generation potential from turning waste heat into district heat. It’s fairly common in other European countries.

“The Government want to see local authorities take responsibility for their own actions, and that’s exactly want I want to do.”

Cllr Williams said the vision had been shared with Southampton docks director Doug Morrison, who saw it as an “opportunity”.

The heat could be piped to Millbrook and Redbridge through the docks, to Weston or around Mayflower Park , he said. A full business case will be put together over the coming year.

Cllr Williams also plans to put solar panels on the roofs of nearly 1,000 council owned buildings and and team up with the big energy companies to “green wall” all council housing with better insulation.

It comes as Southampton’s council housing heating bill is set to rise from £4m this year to about £10m over the next ten years, leaving the council with a £4m plus deficit without action to cut costs. Tenants already face an 18 per cent hike in their heating bills this October.

The idea of siphoning heat from the incinerator, possibly to pipe it to homes in Woolston and Weston, was first floated by the previous Conservative administration three years ago.

A long established gas fired and geothermal district heating network in Southampton already supplies some homes and over 100 commercial buildings around the city centre such as Ikea and WestQuay shopping centre.

The district energy scheme uses about 10MW of heat - a quarter of that produced by the incinerator in the waste combustion process.

The Marchwood incinerator opened five years ago to burn Hampshire’s waste and generate electricity. It can burn up to 165,000 tonnes of household black bag waste each year.

It is managed by Veolia under a 28-year contract with Hampshire County Council, Southampton City Council and Portsmouth City Council.

Veolia said it chose to produce electricity production rather than generating combined heat and power because there are no residential developments close enough to Marchwood to use the heat. But the company said the technology was in place at the site to use the heat.

A Veolia Environmental Services spokeswoman said: “We are aware of Southampton City Council’s interest in expanding its district heating network and the Marchwood Energy Recovery Facility has been designed to provide both heat and power.

"We therefore broadly support the principle to continue to evaluate the potential for the ERF to supply heat to the Southampton network in the future.”